From time to time the topic of choice comes up on this grief journey. There is a camp, and I fall squarely into it, that believes that happiness is something you choose. The other side of the coin is the belief that you cannot make yourself “get happy”. The reality, as it often does, lies somewhere in between the extremes. I made the choice to be happy again long before Will died. Happiness has always been the light at the end of my tunnel. If it hadn’t been there. If I couldn’t believe in it. I wouldn’t be here right now. So in some ways it is rather simple. But, in others, it is not. I didn’t wake up happy one day. My decision to pursue happiness actively didn’t get me to the state of bliss quickly. Indeed, I would say that though much of my life is on track and I am quite happy with where I am heading, there are still pieces of the puzzle out of place or missing altogether. The idea that happiness is achieved simply by the act of making the choice is one that is most common in those who refuse to choose. Those of us who have chosen, know better.
Happiness is not handed to anyone. There is work involved and in the beginning as many setbacks as there are steps forward. The happiness seekers are criticized for wanting to distract themselves from their grief or avoid it altogether. It’s not possible to do this however. You can’t make the milestones and memories disappear. When I sold the house, it brought out of the shadows the memories of that summer we bought it. Of Will’s rapid descent into dementia. Of learning he was terminal. All the financial difficulties. Worry about how I would care for a dying man and a not quite toddler and still hold down a full time job because we needed the money and the health insurance. I am planning a major move and preparing to marry. I don’t need to go back there right now, but I do. Those memories would have stayed put otherwise. And you might ask, what does that scary time and sad, painful memories have to do with happiness? Aside from provide a contrast? They are a reminder not to take now for granted. To be thankful for the love I have found with Rob and the life we are starting. Because grieving is not just about leaving someone behind, it is also about taking stock of where you are and deciding where you want to be. Some of us decide that where we want to be is stuck. More of us, I think, choose to push through and pursue a course that, though harder at times, is ultimately more rewarding. Grief work is not about wallowing. It is about living. And if that sounds simplistic, it is because most things in life are rather simple. It is we who complicate matters with over-analysis and supposition.
“Thinking makes it so” is what I believe Shakespeare wrote in his ode to being stuck in grief, Hamlet. I never have liked that play. I loathe the character of Hamlet. I had a professor in a summer humanities course who waxed endlessly about the intricacies of the character and the profundity of his thought processes. I just saw someone who was more content in rationalizing and second guessing because it was safe. In the great “to be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet ponders the question of seeking refuge in death and wonders why he cannot. He surmises that it is the dilemma of trading the known for the unknown. It is the same for those mired in grief. To make a decision to seek happiness is to trade the safety of your known misery for the uncertainty of finding a life beyond it and in seeking happiness, end up more miserable.
When you choose to be happy, you are in no way guaranteeing that happiness will be the outcome. Too many variables. However, in not making the choice you are assuring that you won’t be.
- a blessing for grief (karamoloney.com)
- September Topic: Staying Happy & Healthy Through Grief (trauma2art.com)
- Right vs. Happy (psychologytoday.com)